Graham Shaw
Wed 14 Sep 2011 05:30
Before leaving Palmerston, we were very lucky to be included in the last bird hunt of the season.  This happens 3 or 4 times a year when bosun birds are collected and then divided up amongst the islanders depending on how many people are in each family.  They are then killed, plucked, seared and put in an umu (Polynesian underground oven) for cooking.  These birds were not to everyone's taste, but I actually quite liked it, very different taste than I thought - not fishy at all.  Gray facetiously asked the head of one of the families if it tasted like chicken?  He replied "It does a bit", and then he thought about it for minute, and added "but it tastes more like bird"!
Collection net for the Bosun birds, which look a bit like seagulls.
One of the youngters plucking a bird.  Lucas was quite taken with this little girl.
Simon and Goodly, the bird officials, dividing the catch.
Before we had the bosun bird feast, we attended church.  The singing was very vocal, and mainly sang in Cook Islands Maori language, with the older generation putting the youngsters to shame.  Very beautiful, clearly had some religious stuff in the middle somewhere, where a lot of the children read from passages from their King James versions - they are keen to point out this is what most of their religion is based on.  Men sat on one side in the church, women on the other.  The visiting yachties were made very welcome - we are generally the only visitors they get, as the supply ship only calls there every three months and is often delayed by a month or two.  The only non-yachting visitor there at the time of our visit was Rose (see below) who will have been there for five months by the time the next ship comes.  Not much use to the average tourist!
In church all the women have to wear longish skirts, covered shoulders and a special hat.  In this picture outside the church left to right are Kirk (of Canadian yacht Discovery - never anchor behind him), me, Gray with Lucas, Claire (Kirk's daughter), Eric (Kirk's crew), Yvonne (the local headmistress), Terry, the pastor (and husband of Yvonne), their daughter Shakina, Gail (of the shipwrecked Ri Ri, and now onboard Catacaos for onward passage to Tonga), Rose (from Bridport in Dorset), whose father was ship wrecked in Palmerston in the 60's, and has returned to scatter his ashes, and Frank, the owner of Ri Ri.
From Palmerston (the last of the Cook Islands) it was a short passage to Niue, but very nice.  With Frank and Gail joining us, more people to do night watches make a very easy passage for us.  Arriving in Niue, we saw a number of whales blowing on the way in.  Plus when we arrived in the anchorage a turtle came up to say hello, and then a mother and calf humpback whale.
Mother and calf humpback whales. Awesome!!!
Niue is an independent country - one of the smallest states in the world, yet is the largest lump of coral which there is.  There are no rivers or streams, so any runoff rainfall is filtered through the coral and limestone caves.  This leads to some of the most extraordinary underwater visibility in the world.  In fact visibility of seventy metres in not uncommon, reducing to forty metres on a bad day.  We were on a mooring in 14 metres of water and could see the bottom at night!  Niue is a lovely island with many places to walk, mainly sea treks down to beaches or chasms.  We hired a car and managed to reach the treks further afield, and also we were able to visit a village show day.  This is a monthly event where each village alternates putting on the show, which starts very early in the morning - 6am and goes onto 11 am.  We did not make the early start but we managed to catch some of the dancing.  The island is about 100 square miles with 1600-odd inhabitants, so about twice the size of Jersey with it's nearly 100,000 inhabitants!
Lots of coconut crabs to be seen and could be bought, but a little pricey for my liking between 50 and 100 NZ $ for one crab.
Good eating apparently!!  I'll have to catch one.
Local produce for sale.
Togo chasm, which was very impressvie.  The walk was about 1km through huge coral.  The ladder down into the chasm was not quite to Gray's liking though.
Coral which stretched for miles.
What a poser.
Limu pool, which is a beautiful snorkeling area - followed by the arches.
Inside the caves it was all very different.
Niue was hit by a devastating cyclone in 2004, which wiped out the 90% of the buildings on the island.  The main road leading south out of town had many houses which were washed away by the storm surge.  We struggled to imagine this, as the road has an elevation of 26 metres, and the water was 2 metres deep in the road.  Yes, with 300kmh winds, the water was forced ashore to a height of 28 metres above sea level. 
Huge caves at Palaha.
Sea snake looking for dinner.  There are lots of these in the water, you have to be careful not to run into them while swimming.  They are poisonous, but generally will not bite you apparently?
We were very fortunate to be in the island the same time as the whale research people from Whalesalive, and were able to take them out on Catacaos to go looking for whales.  We were out for about 6 hours, and followed a mother and calf, a number of whales logging, and some fluking, and most impressive was a couple of whales breaching - fantastic.  I was never quick enough with the camera though.  The research covers identifying each individual whale which is done by a photograph of the underside of the tail, which is like a finger print - every one is different.  They also photograph dorsal fins and can part identify them from this, and also take skin samples,  from which they can make DNA analysis.  The whole day was very interesting and imformative in many ways, and the whales putting on a show for us was an added bonus.
Cara and Olive of the Whale Research Team listening and recording whalesong with a hydrophone.
More caves.
Little shindig at Glenda's house.  Glenda is hosting the whale researcch time during their time in Niue.  It was lovely evening in a beautiful house overlooking the sea, and the whales.
We have had a very interesting time in Niue. The Niue Yacht Club who look after the moorings are so hospitable - they should be voted the most helpful yacht club in the Pacific. They have members from all over the world but they do not posses a yacht. ( anyone want to donate one?).  The anchorage was great until the wind came around from the west, which does not happen very often, but with a 3 metre swell it was awful.  A guy in the anchorage managed to crush and remove part of his middle finger on a line caught up on his anchor, so emergency lift to shore, which in normal circumstances is okay, but with the dock awash with water, and the boat lurching about it was very treacherous.  After this incident two boats whose crew were ashore started chafing through their mooring lines (chafing on their anchors), so there more fun and games.  One boat was very lucky as it was down to the last strands on the last line - also it did not have a working engine. This boat would have been on the reef within seconds.  A group effort from three different boats sorted out the two boats in peril, in very dangerous conditions.  I have to say my heart was in my mouth watching Gray, Jamie and Jason being thrown all over the place.  Good news though that Charles from Dreamcatcher had his finger sewn back on and it seems to be taking up ok.
As usual we have tried to find a good weather window to leave, but there is either too much wind or not enough. We need to keep moving as time is getting short, and we now are heading off to Tonga - should be there in two days when hopefully we can send the backlog of blogs.
At last the one that did not get away.